By JOHN T. WARD
The panel charged with a hurry-up examination of the proposed Red Bank Charter School expansion teed up the institution for segregation in its report, unveiled at a borough council meeting Wednesday night.
“According to New Jersey Department of Education enrollment data, Red Bank Borough is home to the most segregated school district in the state of New Jersey, with deep disparity” in racial makeup, primary language skills and economic backgrounds, the report said.
Those “stark differences” prompt “serious questions” about whether the charter school is meeting its legal obligation to reflect a cross-section of the town’s children, it said.
The seven-member panel’s majority report calls on New Jersey Education Commissioner David Hespe to deny the expansion request, which would double charter school enrollment to 400 students over three years, beginning in September.
Hespe, whose department has encouraged “successful” charter schools to grow, has sole authority to allow or block the expansion.
The panel, appointed by Mayor Pasquale Menna four weeks ago, spotlighted two issues in its report: the demographic disparities between the charter and borough school district, and the financial impact on both the district and Red Bank taxpayers.
According to district Superintendent Jared Rumage, 90 percent of the district’s 1,407 students are Hispanic or African-American, compared to 48 percent of the charter school’s 200-student population. In addition, he contends, 88 percent of the district’s children are economically disadvantaged, compared to 40 percent of the charter school’s.
The charter school’s application to the state says the expansion “would be “implemented through a weighted admissions lottery.”
In fiscal terms, the panel’s report said that while the charter school’s expansion request, filed with the state on December 1, states that “financial hardship will be incurred” by the district as a result of the expansion, “it has not satisfactorily stated what the impact to the community would be.”
Instead, the panel adopted warnings by Rumage that the expansion would force the district “to use its tax levy ceiling of 5.23-percent” while also requiring “the loss of teachers, increased class sizes and the loss of sports, music, Chinese, band, strings, chorus and instructional support programs.”
The report was also critical of the expansion for taking a tax-paying property off the tax rolls, assuming the charter school is able to acquire the commercial building in which it recent leased space at 135-137 Monmouth Street. The building, which abuts the charter school campus on Oakland Street, now yields more than $31,000 a year to borough revenue.
Here’s the full report: RBCS blue ribbon report FINAL 012716
In a separate letter to Hespe, school district auditor Bob Allison, who was appointed borough auditor on January 2, wrote that the impact of allowing the expansion would be “devastating” to the district, producing a four-year-cumulative shortfall of “somewhere between $1.8 and $2.2 million.”
Michael Stasi, a charter school founder and one of the seven panel members, filed a dissent in the form of a letter to Hespe, which was not read aloud at the council meeting. In it, he took issue with the commission majority’s decision to focus on demographics and the financial impact of the expansion over academic achievement.
“In my view, the issue of greatest importance would be that of academics and the educational wellbeing of the children of Red Bank,” he wrote. The school’s demographic makeup, he said, “is driven by a lottery system which is the result of charter school law,” and is an issue the school hopes to address through the implementation of a weighted lottery “to better serve a disadvantaged school age population.”
Here’s the full letter: Stasi letter 012616
A number of residents who spoke at the council meeting praised the panel’s report, while none disparaged it.
“We are one community,” said Jill Burden, a West Westside Avenue resident and mother of a district student. “The charter school is making us two, and that is not fair.”
“‘Most segregated’ is not a moniker this town wants,” said Wayne Woolley, one of of the more vocal critics of the charter plan. His wife, Judy DeHaven, served on the commission.
The council with Councilman Ed Zipprich absent, vote unanimously to adopt the commission’s report and send it to Hespe. He’s expected to issue a decision in February, a Department of Education spokesman told redbankgreen earlier this month.
Afterward, district board member Ben Forest cited what he characterized as “the bizarre conduct” of the charter school’s board of trustees.
“Everything you can do wrong in terms of reaching out to the public, they did,” he said.
Here’s the charter school’s application to the DOE: RBCS Amendment Request Dec 2015